by Cheryl Calire
As the 40th anniversary of the Roe V. Wade decision approaches*, one might ask, “Why do people still gather in Washington, D C in opposition to a United States Supreme Court decision made on January 22, 1973?” In late October 1973, a grassroots group of about thirty pro-life veterans became a committee and planned the first March for Life on the west steps of the Capitol held on January 22, 1974. It was estimated that approximately 20,000 pro-life Americans rallied for the unborn.
In 1974, March for Life was incorporated as a non-profit, non-partisan, non-sectarian organization. The rally has become an annual event that has steadily increased over the years and draws numbers that in 2012 were estimated to be at nearly 400,000 people, from youth to seniors, men and women, from every walk of life. There are now many activities and events surrounding the cause of life principles protecting human life, from conception to natural death and all stages in between.
The founder and chief organizer of this event, Nellie Gray, died at age 88 on August 14, 2012. Gray, a lawyer who received her degree in 1959 from Georgetown University, was also a former Federal employee who devoted herself full time to the Pro-Life movement, where she served as President of the March for Life Education and Defense Fund until her death. She has inspired countless people to fight for the cause of life for God’s children. She would often say, “No exception, no compromise!” to sum up her belief that life begins at conception and abortion should be illegal.
The annual march has become a symbol and visual reminder of the unborn and the “ripple effect” it has on society. The event serves to educate, increase awareness, and to help prayerfully refuel the passion of pro-life Americans. Although she will be missed at the march on January 25, 2013, the pro-life community, including an ever increasing number of youth, will continue in her footsteps with gratitude for her commitment to human rights struggles of our times.
One step in the “rite” direction is the exciting news released on the feast of the Annunciation last year, when we as Catholics remember Mary’s “Yes” to God and the Incarnation of that Child in her womb that saved the world. A new rite was added to be a part of both the Book of Blessings and Benedictional for use in the Dioceses of the United States of America, and is published by authority of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. According to the USCCB announcement of March 26, 2012, “It was crafted to support parents awaiting the birth of their child, to encourage parish prayers for and in recognition of the precious gift of the child in the womb, and to foster respect for human life within society.”
Within the context of the Year of Faith, the Church gives us this wonderful opportunity to show unity, in support of human life and for the strength of the family, by participating in prayer and Christian witness together in this new “Rite for the Blessing of a Child in the Womb.” At the synod of Bishops held in October, encouragement was given to go back to their respective Diocese and hold a special Mass or Blessing to increase awareness of this beautiful rite.
The blessing contains great potential for evangelization and to support our core teaching of faith of the precious gift of life. It may also be viewed as a renewal of faith in preparation of the birth and baptism of the child, and to welcome the family to parish life activities. The blessing also addresses the support needed from the parish and from the community in raising the child in Christ, giving several dimensions to this rite.
In my work at the Office of Pro-Life Activities for the Diocese of Buffalo, as well as the Director of the St. Gianna Pregnancy Outreach Center, I see an increasing desire of people wanting to participate in the pro-life movement in a prayerful, peaceful way to change hearts and minds in regards to human life. I see this as a “true blessing” and another evangelization opportunity to bring the love of Christ to others. It also validates and acknowledges in action and in words that life is a gift from God, and is to be protected, valued, and cherished.
*This article was originally written for the January 2013 edition of The Station of the Cross Newsletter.
Cheryl Calire is the Director of Pro-Life Activities for the Diocese of Buffalo, NY. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.